Microsoft's Authorized Academic Training Program

Last week, I learned about Microsoft's Authorized Academic Training Program (AATP). Through AATP, Microsoft offers high schools computer licenses and courseware (at discounted prices) if the schools provide 12 hours a week of MCSE instruction and give MCSE exams (at discounted prices). I've written before about employer attitudes regarding MCSE certification; I've found too many people who have the piece of paper but lack the knowledge necessary to fix things that go awry. I've insisted that experience is more important than certification. Now we'll have a group of young people who possess the magic piece of paper that Human Resource departments love to see. I extend my sympathies in advance to the IS departments that inherit these new employees (who will probably work for far less money than an experienced IS professional would demand). The information on the AATP Web site includes advice from a woman who runs an AATP program. She talks about the need to establish corporate sponsors to fund the program because school districts tend to respond slowly to curriculum changes. Hooray for the school districts, say I. This isn't computer education, this is Microsoft education. Although some people might consider those terms synonymous, I don't. However, in the spirit of cooperation, and as a staunch supporter of public school education, I'd like to take this ingenious approach to education to its logical conclusion. With apologies to Jonathan Swift (if you haven't read "A Modest Proposal," you should), here's my proposal. Get rid of the chemistry courses. Let Pfizer Drugs provide the course work and train high school students to develop all the tranquilizers, mood-elevators, and Viagra the world will need. I've managed to get through life without remembering the details of the Periodic Table, so let's eliminate it. Get rid of the math courses and bring in the Department of Defense, along with a curriculum that covers only missile deployment angles. After all, how often do you really use trigonometry? English literature and composition? Ridiculous. Let's take the practical approach. Why learn Shakespeare's sonnets when today's communication skills are enhanced by the ability to be proficient with emoticons? Sheesh, I thought it was a sad day when San Francisco's Candelstick Park became 3COM Park. The AATP program has a great deal of baggage attached. I've been discussing all the intricacies with a colleague, Mark J. Edwards, who is the editor of Windows NT Magazine Security UPDATE, our bi-weekly NT security newsletter ( Edwards first brought AATP to my attention with a note that said, "I found this story to be both admirable and startling at the same time. An MCSE straight out of high school? Isn't that about the same as tempting a kid with a pro-sports contract right out of high-school, telling him to skip college in favor of a job with good pay?" I don't think specific corporate education is appropriate for high schools. I could go on for hours on that subject, tracing the history of free public education in the United States, its importance in the original ideals of the founding fathers and the nature of the education the school systems should offer, but I'll spare you the entire diatribe. It's great to let IS professionals participate in the public school computer curriculum with guest stints, explaining the day to day tasks—the practical side of knowing about hardware, OSs, and applications. But the AATP program is channeling, not education. Back in the days when the United States was still drafting young men for the armed forces, the government practiced channeling on the college level, but it wasn't as direct or offensive as this. If the school systems around the country were in dire need of math teachers, math teachers were excluded from the draft. This channeled men into studying mathematics and becoming public school teachers. This method might not be the fairest way to run a draft, but at least it had a positive side effect for the entire country. In this case, however, we're looking at corporate curriculum channeling, using people who are really too young to make lifetime career decisions. In addition, only certain corporations reap the benefits, at the expense of the general populace. Although Edwards shares my admittedly idealistic approach to issues such as this, he manages to see and articulate the practical side before I do (which stimulates my own thinking). Here are some of the side effects we've been discussing since discovering that Microsoft is budgeting $75 million for this program (not all of which is for high schools; this program also extends to junior colleges). Will corporations that currently require a college degree in addition to MCSE certification hire an MCSE right out of high school? After all, the piece of paper indicates the same level of proficiency (I'll bite my tongue and leave it at that). And, of course, the payroll demands would certainly be lower. Does this lower the requirements for becoming an IS professional? If these young people get IS jobs right out of high school, what message does that send to IS professionals about the worth of hands-on experience? Another interesting thought from Edwards is, "Why can't they put together a program to retrain people being displaced from their manual jobs because of computer automation? There are literally thousands and thousands of people wanting to break into computing, with little or no way to do it. A friend who is changing careers was asking my advice on getting an MCSE, and he faces a semi-long and expensive road to achieve that goal." I've also considered the effect of this program on the general worth of an MCSE certification. Between all the books on "How to pass an MCSE exam" and this program, I see two side effects. First, we can eliminate forever any pretense that practical, hands-on, experience is any part of becoming certified as an IS professional. And second, we're going to have such a flood of MCSE-certified folks that the certificate's potency will be reduced. And, then there's Edwards’ last question to me. "Hmmmm. Here's a test for Microsoft: how many of these kids would Microsoft hire? Will they eat their own dog food in this instance?" A lot to think about, on a lot of levels

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